When I was little, I thought somebody three feet high and disguised in a bed sheet was extremely scary. So that’s what I wore on Halloween and I always collected enough candy to make myself sick.

My own kids wanted something fancier, so I cut black plastic garbage bags into bat wings and taped them on with duct tape. They flapped around the neighborhood until their wings fell off. Then it was time to go home and eat the haul.   

Now parents pay good money over the Internet for designer costumes that look adorable for at least 15 minutes, until they’re smeared with Tootsie Roll slobber.

I notice the little boys usually wear something scary, the grosser the better. But the girls – with no exceptions whatsoever – dress like princesses and it don’t matter if their grandmother explains until she’s blue in the face that on Halloween you’re supposed to dress scary and princesses ain’t scary. Not on purpose, anyway.

They wear tiaras and sparkly dresses that are pink or lavender. Those are the only colors princesses are allowed to wear. I know that from my granddaughter Lollipop. She is going on three, so she’s an expert.

I told my daughter Gumdrop it’s more creative to whip up your costume on the spot with whatever’s lying around. But she says things have changed and going on the Internet is creative enough for her.

A lot has changed, all right. Halloween ain’t just one night any more. People are running around dressed weird for the entire month – except where I live, in the French Quarter. There they dress weird for the entire year.

Anyway, last week there’s this big pre-Halloween family festival out in the country near Gumdrop’s house. There is going to be a costume contest and she entered my two grandbabies. Now this costume contest is completely different than the costume contests in the Quarter, which have all them transformers prancing around in their high heels. This is a wholesome family-oriented costume contest and Gumdrop thinks it’s a chance to make a good impression on her new neighbors. 

Lollipop is going to be a princess, of course. Her little brother Go-Cup is only eight months old and way too cute to be anything scary. So Gumdrop decides to dress him as Winnie the Pooh. Well, that’s tempting fate.

So she orders outfits for both kids, with a sparkly dress and tiara for Lollipop and a furry suit with ears for Go-Cup.

Grown-ups get in free if they’re in costume too, so she orders herself a tail and some pointy ears, so she can say she’s a kitty cat. Her husband Slime decides to go with a Shrek mask and green skin. In case you don’t know, Shrek is that movie cartoon ogre that little boys love because he passes gas and picks his feet and his nose and does other disgusting things. Gumdrop tells him he can dress like Shrek but if he acts like Shrek at the festival, she will not be amused.

She asks would I come take pictures, so I throw on my witch costume and count on the fact that I just got a real bad haircut to complete my look.

 The contestants are divided into age groups, and each child is supposed to walk across the stage while the announcer says “And what is this little goblin?” And the child is supposed to say “Dragon,” or  “Princess,” or “Elmo,” or “Princess,” or “Pirate,” or “Princess,” or whatever they are. But mostly they burst into tears, so after a while the mamas start walking up with them. After that, they’re supposed to stay on the stage, form a line and wait for judging. Well, I’m glad I’m not a judge. Those costumes are something else and obviously none of them were made by loving hands at home.

Lollipop is in the toddler category and Go-Cup’s in the infant class immediately following. When Lollipop’s called, Gumdrop hands the baby to Slime and walks Lollipop up on the stage, while I scurry to the front with the camera.

 Slime tells me later what happened: Just as he’s realizing Gumdrop still has the diaper bag on her arm, disaster strikes. To put it delicately, Winnie the Pooh lives up to his name and his diaper and his costume ain’t no match for what he lets loose. Slime holds him out at arm’s length and rushes to the restroom, peels off his entire outfit and washes him clean. Clean, but naked.

 There is a crumpled up brown paper grocery bag lying on the counter that somebody must have used to bring their costume in.

I am still at the foot of the stage with my camera, bumping elbows with competing grandmothers, when I hear them call Go-Cup’s name. Nothing happens. From the stage Gumdrop evidently sees Slime’s Shrek mask in the crowd, because she motions for him to get himself up there. And Slime does, clutching Go-Cup, with his fuzzy head and his fat little arms sticking out of a crumpled brown bag. The announcer says “And what is this little goblin?” Slime looks blank, and then he says, “A booger?”

Gumdrop is ready to die. She breaks out of line and snatches her baby-in-a-bag. Then the announcer says “Oho! A family theme!” Well, these people are very, very big on family togetherness and they assume this family coordinated their costumes on purpose: Turns out a cat and a princess are both characters in the Shrek movie and Go-Cup’s dressed as the appropriate Shrek accessory.

So they win a whole basket of stuff donated by local merchants. The other parents ain’t too happy that their expensive costumes were beat by a paper bag but I think there’s a lesson in that.

Things haven’t changed so much after all.


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